During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Courts have unfortunately, but necessarily, been impacted. As a result, the Courts have, at times, had to restrict the matters that may be heard to only those that are urgent, as defined by the Notices to the Profession that have been published by the Court. For instance, the Consolidated Notice to the Profession, Litigants, Accused Persons, Public and the Media lists a number of matters that are to be considered urgent. With respect to civil and commercial list matters, this includes “urgent and time-sensitive motions and applications in civil and commercial list matters, where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing.” Discretion is also granted to allow the Court to decline to hear any particular matter described in the Notice as being urgent, if appropriate, or to allow a hearing that the Court deems necessary and appropriate to be heard on an urgent basis.
Despite the Notices from the Court, there may still be confusion amongst parties as to whether their matter qualifies as “urgent” or not. As The Honourable Justice Myers stated in the recent decision of Nicholas v. Ogniewicz, 2021 ONSC 4442, “Self-induced urgency is not ‘urgent’.”
In Nicholas v Ogniewicz, the issue was that there had been an agreement of purchase and sale with respect to real property, which provided that the purchaser would submit requisitions two weeks prior to closing. Unfortunately, the requisitions submitted by the purchaser were extensive, and as noted in the decision, it was apparent that several of the requisitions could not be physically accomplished before the closing date.
A week after the requisitions were received, the vendor asked for an urgent hearing date, pursuant to the Notice to Profession – Toronto, Toronto Expansion Protocol for Court Hearings during Covid-19 Pandemic, to resolve the validity of the requisitions.
Justice Myers described the current state of the civil list in Toronto as follows:
The civil list in Toronto is building a backlog of motion and application hearings. It is currently suffering unacceptably long timeouts for civil motions and applications due to the effects of the pandemic and a lack of resources. Truly urgent matters are being heard on an urgent basis. But no judge is sitting around waiting for them to come in. They are heard at a cost to other cases waiting in the queue or to case conferences that the judge may have to defer, or to parties waiting for the release of the judge’s reserved decisions that the judge was writing in her non-sitting time.
In the court’s view, in this particular case the time-sensitivity present was self-induced by both sides. It was also noted that no one was at risk of physical injury, the property was not about to suffer irremediable waste, no confidential information was at risk of disclosure or misuse, and no business was at risk of imminent failure or irreparable harm unless misconduct is urgently prevented. Ultimately, the court determined that the matter was not urgent as set out in the Notice to the Profession, and there was no basis for it to jump the queue.
Although there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we must all still be mindful of the long-lasting consequences, including the heavy backlog that continues to exist, and will likely continue to exist for some time, in our courts.
Thanks for reading,
You may also enjoy these other blog posts:
On April 30, 2021, the Long-Term Care Covid-19 Commission (the “Commission“) released its Final Report to the Minister of Long-Term Care. This report pulled back the curtain on the dreadful conditions that residents of certain long-term care homes in Ontario have endured during the coronavirus pandemic. It also made recommendations to the Ontario government with respect to improving quality of care for the long-term care resident population. You can read more about the Commission’s report in Ian Hull and Tori Joseph’s recent blog.
It seems that the Ontario government is heeding the Commission’s call to action. On May 31, 2021, Ontario announced that all long-term care homes in the province will be required to put into place certain COVID-19 vaccine policies for staff. The focus of these policies will be on educating long-term care staff about COVID-19 vaccines and promoting full immunization among staff.
The requirements related to the establishment, implementation and reporting on a COVID-19 immunization policy in long-term care homes are set out in the Minister’s Directive: Long-term care home COVID-19 immunization policy (the “Directive“). The objectives of the Directive are to establish a consistent approach to COVID-19 immunization policies in long-term care homes, optimize COVID-19 immunization rates in homes, and ensure that staff make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination. To meet these objectives, the Directive provides that every person working in a long-term care home in Ontario will be required to do one of the following:
- Provide proof of vaccination of each dose;
- Provide a documented medical reason for not being vaccinated; or
- Participate in an educational program about the benefits of vaccination and the risks of not being vaccinated.
The Directive is effective as of July 1, 2021, which means that long-term care homes have approximately one month to implement their COVID-19 staff immunization policies.
It is worth noting that Ontario is the first province in Canada to make it mandatory for long-term care homes to have COVID-19 immunization policies for staff and to set out the minimum requirements that need to be included in these policies. Hopefully this will be an effective step towards better protecting the health and well-being of long-term care home residents.
Thanks for reading!
“A pandemic is an inopportune time to create a nuanced, well-thought-out and thorough response plan.” – Long-Term Care Covid-19 Commission
On May 19, 2020, in an effort to investigate the deplorable conditions witnessed in many Long-Term Care homes across the province, Ontario launched the Long-Term Care Covid-19 Commission (the “Commission”). On Friday, April 30, 2021, the Commission submitted its final report (the “Report”) to the Minister of Long-Term Care which only confirmed what the province already knew – vulnerable elders were subject to neglect and abuse long before Covid-19 came knocking on Canada’s door. CanAge, a seniors’ advocacy group, described the Commission’s findings as “both a call to action and horror.”
The Report painstakingly depicts a picture of the nightmarish conditions experienced by the residents of certain Long-Term Care Homes in Ontario. The Commission compared the mental health effects suffered by some residents to those faced by prisoners in solitary confinement. This abandonment of one of our most at risk communities is disgraceful.
The Commission pointed to the extreme lack of coordination between government decision-makers as a key finding in its study. Perhaps what was most alarming, was the finding that dozens of residents in homes hit hard by the virus died from dehydration and neglect rather than Covid-19. Though Covid-19 shed light on the inhumane conditions of some homes, this is not a novel problem. The government’s delay in responding to this crisis proved to be deadly in more ways than one.
The Report recommended that the government reconsider the management of Long-Term Care homes with a renewed focus on “quality care.” Of particular note, the Commission cautioned against Long-Term Care homes owned by investors as “care should be the sole focus of the entities responsible [for these homes] …” The Report also criticized the government’s “lack of urgency” to the situation.
If lessons were not learned from this tragedy, then the deaths of so many will have been in vain. Let’s hope the government responds to this Report with immediate action.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!
Ian Hull and Tori Joseph
In a Notice to the Profession and the Public updated April 20, 2021, Chief Justice Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court gave notice that until May 7, 2021, the Court will be deferring as many matters as possible. This restriction is in light of the recent critical situation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in light of the recent heightened province-wide Stay-at Home order effective April 17, 2021.
The Notice reads as follows:
In view of the strengthened stay-at-home order and the critical situation with the pandemic, over the next several weeks until May 7, to reduce the number of court staff, counsel or parties required to leave their homes to participate in court proceedings, the Court will defer as many matters as possible. This includes virtual hearings.
The Court will focus on hearing
- the most serious child protection matters
- urgent family matters
- critical criminal matters, and
- urgent commercial or economic matters where there are employment or economic impacts.
Subject to the discretion of the trial judge, matters that are in-progress can continue. The positions of the parties and staff should be strongly considered and alternate arrangements should be made for those who do not wish to attend in-person.
The Court is seeking the cooperation of counsel to defer as much as possible.
However, matters WILL be proceeding as scheduled on the Toronto Estates List. In a message sent out by Justice McEwen, he stated that unless you are advised to the contrary, you should assume that any matters currently scheduled on the Commercial List or Estates List are proceeding as scheduled. This is because all matters on the Lists are proceeding virtually, and most are proceeding without the need for court staff to be physically present in the Court. The message was distributed to members of the Estates List Users Committee for dissemination. If you would like to receive a copy, please contact me at email@example.com.
Have a great weekend.
A recent video presentation by the Federal Court of Canada gives a number of tips for a successful Zoom hearing. A recording of the presentation can be found here.
The Federal Court of Canada has heard over 2,000 hearings over Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. Justice Pentney of the Federal Court of Canada reports that the system is working. However, the key to making it work is, as in most things legal, preparation.
In the seminar, Justice Pentney provides tips for effective Zoom hearings. These include:
- Understand the software.
Do not learn on the fly. Practice with the software. Learn the features available and know how to use them.
- Preplan with opposing counsel.
Discuss software issues, documents to be referred to, procedural matters, witness order, etc.
- Frame your shot.
Be seen clearly. Be well-lit.
- Avoid distracting background.
- Rename yourself.
Change your screen name in Zoom to reflect your role. Eg. “Paul Trudelle: Plaintiff’s counsel”, etc.
Ensure all documents are available. Be familiar with the filing system used by the court.
- Document sharing.
Ensure text size is big enough. Highlight text if appropriate.
- Close other apps.
Make sure unused apps are closed, to avoid notifications from popping up, and to avoid accidental sharing of unintended information.
- Be wary of muting/unmuting.
Make sure that the mic doesn’t pick up unintended discussions.
- Have backups.
Make sure that a cell phone hotspot is available in case of Wi-Fi failure. Limit other network users to avoid system slowdowns. Have backup headphones with a mic.
For an excellent summary of the presentation, see Dan Rosman’s video summary, here.
Have a great weekend.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown much of what we take for granted on its head. If recent reports are accurate we can potentially add to that list an individual’s right to control their own medical treatment as codified in the Health Care Consent Act (the “HCCA”).
There have been reports in the news recently about advanced planning currently underway about what would happen to the provision of health care if the worst case scenario for COVID-19 should occur and the hospitals are overwhelmed. Included amongst these reports are discussions that certain provisions of the HCCA may temporarily be suspended as part of a new triage system which would allow medical professionals to prioritize who received treatment.
Section 10 of the HCCA codifies that a health care practitioner shall not carry out any “treatment” for a patient unless the patient, or someone authorized on behalf of the patient, has consented to the treatment. The Supreme Court of Canada in Cuthbertson v. Rasouli, 2013 SCC 53, confirmed that “treatment” included the right not to be removed from life support without the patient’s consent even if health practitioners believed that keeping the patient on life support was not in the patient’s best interest. In coming to such a decision the Supreme Court of Canada notes:
“The patient’s autonomy interest — the right to decide what happens to one’s body and one’s life — has historically been viewed as trumping all other interests, including what physicians may think is in the patient’s best interests.”
The proposed changes to the HCCA would appear to be in direct contradiction to the spirit of this statement, allowing health care practitioners to potentially determine treatment without a patient’s consent based off of the triage criteria that may be developed. This “treatment” could potentially include whether to keep a patient on a lifesaving ventilator.
Hopefully the recent downward trend for COVID-19 cases holds and the discussion about any changes to the HCCA remains purely academic. If not however, and changes are made to the HCCA which could remove the requirement to obtain a patient’s consent before implementing “treatment”, you can be certain that litigation would follow. If this should occur it will be interesting to see how the court reconciles any changes to the HCCA with the historic jurisprudence, for as Rasouli notes beginning at paragraph 18 many of the rights that were codified in the HCCA previously existed under the common law, such that any changes to the HCCA alone may not necessarily take these rights away for a patient.
Thank you for reading.
Technology is often considered as a tool more common among younger generations, with older individuals less likely to have embraced the internet and smartphones that, for many of us, have become important parts of our lives.
As lawyers know, the court system and legal profession have embraced technology in a number of new ways over the past year. From Zoom hearings to probate applications filed by email, we have had to adapt to better use technology in the practice of law. Recent news articles also suggest that the pandemic appears to be increasing the use of technology among older adults. In particular, the last ten months are noted to have seen:
- Acceptance of applications typically used primarily by millennials seeking convenience by other groups;
- For many, home delivery has become a “necessity”;
- Video chat has become a “lifeline for older adults”, who may otherwise be totally isolated;
- Increased accessibility to telemedicine and virtual caregiving support; and
- Online education for individuals of all ages, whether geared to enhance career potential or otherwise.
Many of these trends have the potential to assist seniors in aging in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which no doubt has become an increasingly attractive option in light of the tragic situation at many long-term care facilities. Increased technology use by seniors is noted to be a positive that has emerged as a result of COVID to make independent living more comfortable and safer. There are also a number of online resources available with recommendations for seniors wishing to safely age in place, including this review of possible Home Modifications available through Family Assets, a resource for senior care.
It will be interesting to see how our use of technology continues to evolve to assist individuals at all stages of life during the pandemic and beyond.
Thank you for reading.
As 2020 has come to a close, we all fervently hope that the coming year will be better than the last.
In that spirit of optimism, I have reflected on some resolutions as a lawyer.
- Improve Health – But, make it specific in some way. Like resolving to run in a 10k race later in the year.
- Sharpen Communication – Work to better client and colleague communication and consultation.
- Provide Recognition – It takes little effort to recognize the efforts of those around you, and to provide praise, and celebrate achievements.
- Finish CPD – Do those Continuing Professional Development hours early and before it becomes a worry.
- Get Organized – Attend to that one matter that you routinely avoid. Admit it. You have one.
- Manage Time – Make it specific in some way. Hold incoming emails until later in the day, instead of constantly interrupting workflow.
- Embrace New Technologies – It takes time and is anxiety making, but is usually a benefit. This is then followed by Cybersecurity nervousness.
- Seize the Future – Think about the future in a different way. Law and work itself have changed significantly in the last year. Such as working from home.
- Drink Less. The pandemic put an end to in-person networking, seminars, and social events but, this might be followed by more drinking. After the “Spanish Flu” it was the “Roaring Twenties”.
- Be Grateful – That the last year is over and although we all still have to be vigilant, this pandemic will end.
Studies have shown that only a small percentage of New Year’s resolutions actually get implemented! Good luck!
Thanks for reading!
The highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out in Ontario, with some of the first shots having already been administered yesterday. The University Health Network in Toronto and The Ottawa Hospital will be the first to administer the vaccine. Frontline healthcare workers in hospitals, long-term care homes, and other high-risk settings will be given priority. Vaccinations are expected to expand to residents in long-term care homes, home care patients with chronic conditions, and First Nation communities and urban Indigenous populations later in the winter of 2021. The province has not said when vaccines will become available for every Ontarian who wishes to be immunized. However, once available, the province confirms that vaccines will not be mandated but strongly encouraged.
The mass administration of the COVID-19 vaccine could be a real game changer in the battle against coronavirus. However, a recent public opinion poll conducted by Maru Blue shows that only one-third of Canadians would take the vaccine immediately, about half of Canadians would bide their time to assess its safety or use, and the rest have no intention of getting the shot at all. So it appears that Canadians are somewhat divided on the question of whether and when to get vaccinated.
Given the difference of opinion regarding this new vaccine, it is not inconceivable that multiple substitute-decision makers (SDMs) could disagree on whether to give or refuse consent to the shot on behalf of an incapable person. How would such a disagreement be resolved?
First, it is important to note that Ontario’s capacity legislation sets out a hierarchy of SDMs. Pursuant to section 20 of the Health Care Consent Act (HCCA), the guardian of the person is at the top of this hierarchy, followed by an attorney for personal care, representative appointed by the Consent and Capacity Board (CCB), spouse or partner, parent or children, siblings, any other relatives, and lastly the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT). The decision of the highest ranking SDM will prevail over dissenting opinions from those who are lower on the hierarchy.
If there are multiple equally ranked SDMs acting with respect to a particular decision, they all have to be in agreement – the majority does not rule. If the SDMs fail to reach a consensus, any of the SDMs could apply to the CCB to try and be appointed the sole representative to make the decision. However, this option is not available where the incapable person already has a guardian of person or attorney for personal care. Another option is for the SDMs to attend mediation to try to come to an agreement. If mediation is not successful, the health practitioner must turn to the PGT for a decision. Section 20(6) of the HCCA states that the PGT is required to act and cannot decline to act in this situation.
Thanks for reading!
Like many institutions, Ontario’s justice system was directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the courts did not close, they were required to accommodate the public health measures taken to combat the pandemic. Beginning in March 2020, the Ministry of the Attorney General (the “Ministry”) and the Superior Court of Justice (the “Court”) moved diligently to adopt and normalize the use of technology including video and teleconferencing for hearings, electronic signatures, and online platforms for document sharing.
On November 30, 2020, the Attorney General for Ontario announced amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Rules”) to solidify these changes effective January 1, 2021. This significant step toward modernization has been met with great enthusiasm from many legal professionals and advisory bodies who view the changes as long-overdue. The amendments to the Rules will ensure continued access to the courts, and enable legal professionals to serve their clients with greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
I have summarized several noteworthy changes to the Rules below:
Virtual Hearings are Here to Stay…
Given that between March and September 2020, the Court had heard over 50,000 hearings virtually, it should come as no surprise that the Ministry has opted to make virtual hearings a permanent option for litigants.
Rules 1.08 and 1.08.1 are revoked and replaced with Rule 1.08, which requires a party seeking a hearing or step to specify the method of attendance: in person; by telephone conference; or by video conference. This rule does not apply to proceedings at the Ontario Court of Appeal, or in respect of case conferences (which are to be held by teleconference unless the Court specifies an alternative method). The new Rule 1.08 also applies to the rules for mandatory mediations and for oral examinations, with necessary modifications.
If a party objects to the proposed method of attendance, they must do so before the earlier of 10 days or seven days before the hearing. The objection will be dealt with via case conference. When hearing an objection, the Court must consider various factors such as :
- the availability of telephone conference or video conference facilities;
- the general principle that evidence and argument should be presented orally in open court;
- the effect of telephone or video conferencing on the Court’s ability to establish the credibility and observe the demeanor of witnesses; and
- the balance of convenience between parties for and opposed to a remote attendance.
Rule 57.01(1) of the Rules is amended to allow the Court to consider whether a party unreasonably objected to proceeding by telephone or video conference under Rule 1.08 in determining costs.
Furthermore, the Rules no longer assume that hearings will be heard in the county where the proceeding was commenced (Rules 37.15(1), 38.11(2)(b), 60.17(b), and 62.01(6)) or that parties will participate in person (Rules 37.03, 38.03(1.1), 50.05(1), 50.13(2), 54.05(2), and 76.05(2)).
… As is the Virtual Commissioning of Affidavits
Effective August 1, 2020, section 9 of the Commissioners for Taking Affidavits Act was amended to permit virtual and remote commissioning of affidavits. What was initially enacted as a temporary measure has now become permanent, and Rule 4.06(1)(e) is amended to permit virtual commissioning.
Fare Thee Well, Fax Machine – Service by Email is the New Normal
References to the service and delivery of documents by fax have been struck from Rules 16, 37, and 38. Rule 51.01(c) is also amended to strike the reference to service by telegram – yes, you read that correctly. Rule 16.01(4)(b)(iv) and Rule 16.05(1)(f) are amended to permit the service of documents by email without the consent of the other party/parties or obtaining a court order. Rule 16.09(6), which required a certificate of service to prove service by email, is revoked.
Use of Electronic Signatures
A new rule, Rule 4.01.1, provides that documents that may or must be signed by the court, a registrar, a judge, or an officer under the Rules may be signed with an electronic signature.
Official Guidelines for Using CaseLines
We previously blogged about the Ministry ’s adoption of CaseLines, a cloud-based document sharing and storage e-hearing platform for remote and in person court proceedings.
The new Rule 4.05.3 outlines the requirements for using CaseLines, the deadlines for filing documents through CaseLines, and formatting requirements for documents submitted through CaseLines. Any part who submits a document through CaseLines is required to retain the original document until the 30th day after the expiry of the period for an appeal in the proceeding. On request of the court, registrar, or another party, the party must make the original document available for inspection within five days of such a request.
Inconsistencies between the information provided in a document in the court file and the information provided in a document through CaseLines will be resolved in favour of the information in the court file. Furthermore, submitting a document through CaseLines does not amount to filing or service of that document.
Rule 4.01 is revoked and substituted with a new Rule 4.01 that specifies document standards for filing in both paper and electronic formats.
Rule 4.05.3(7) requires that documents submitted to CaseLines be in PDF format and include bookmarks and section headings where appropriate. References to authorities must be hyperlinked to websites they can be viewed free of charge (i.e. CanLII, e-Laws, etc.). If the authority is not publicly available, the relevant excerpt from the cited authority must be included in the document.
Thank you for reading.